Encounter Tools & Templates
Design Discussion for the Game Masters Toolkit
- By WFRP Design Team member Daniel Lovat Clark
It’s recently occurred to me that I have literally been roleplaying for more than half my life. Early games of Rifts and TMNT and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition) have led me here, sitting at a desk in Fantasy Flight Games’ offices in Roseville, Minnesota, writing a design diary for the Game Master’s Toolkit.
During that time, I have played with good and bad game masters. I have been a good (I hope!) and bad (I regret) game master. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what that means - certainly more than most of my friends or family was interested in hearing me talk about. So, good luck for me to wind up, behind this desk, typing these words.
Thoughts on this subject, both mine and those of people much smarter than I, make up much of the text of the Game Master’s Toolkit. And I’m not going to spend much time here talking about what you’ll read within - or at least, not simply repeating what you’ll read within (but stay tuned for a preview, below!). But I am going to take this opportunity to talk about why we wrote what you’ll read within.
Personally, I am a storyteller by training, trade, and inclination. My primary motivation for playing games - any games, but especially roleplaying games - is interacting with the story. Whether I’m guiding it as a GM or even experiencing it relatively passively, as in many video games such as Halo, the story has a profound impact on my enjoyment of any game. This story focus is well represented throughout Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but the Game Master’s Toolkit is a chance for us to really address not just the rules and systems that make the game work, but the underlying structure of stories themselves.
One of the ways that we encourage exciting, dynamic stories in WFRP is the inclusion of the three-act episode & encounter structure. A three-act encounter can be the exciting lynchpin of a larger adventure, an ever-escalating crescendo of action and tension that builds to a spectacular finish. Giving even a straightforward combat encounter a three-act treatment makes it dynamic (in that it changes every act), exciting, and potentially very challenging.
This is a useful tool for GMs when designing encounters, but it is also a very useful “building block” when addressing larger story elements, ranging from an evening’s session to a year’s campaign. Just as an individual encounter can benefit from a beginning, middle, and end, so too can a story arc, investigation, journey, conversation, ritual, adventure, campaign, or any other story element you care to name.
The three-act encounter templates presented in the GM’s Toolkit are intended to provide GMs with a wealth of ideas and possibilities. Using the examples presented in A Day Late, A Shilling Short and An Eye for An Eye, GMs can relatively easily model a three-act battle. But the three-act structure can be used for many more sorts of encounters. A trial, a daring rescue, delicate political negotiations, a breakneck chase – the possibilities are nigh-endless. However, our pagecount isn’t anywhere near endless, so we developed a means by which we could deliver a sort of “greatest hits” list of valuable examples and ideas by creating a series of flexible encounter templates.
Be sure to download the encounter template for The Delivery, which showcases the structure in an easy to use format for GMs. As you can see from the preview, even a relatively simple three-act episode can contain a lot of variety and unexpected twists and turns. This is even more true in a roleplaying game than in most traditional storytelling formats, because of course the actions of the main characters are not scripted beforehand.
The other perhaps interesting feature of this particular preview is the sidebar on the MacGuffin. The MacGuffin isn’t a mechanical, game-rule subject, but a widely-used and incredibly valuable storytelling tool. To a novice GM, it could be just the thing they need to kick off a campaign. To an experienced GM, it may be a new way of looking at an old trick…and some new tools to aid in its use.
The Game Master’s Toolkit is full of insights into the whys and hows of storytelling in a roleplaying format, and lots of suggestions, tips, and ideas GMs can start using immediately to enhance their games. In some ways it might be considered the culmination of my life and experiences thus far. Certainly I’m very proud of it, and I know Lead Developer Jay Little and writers Shane Hensley, Clive Oldfield, and Brady Sadler are as well.
But what’s particularly exciting to me isn’t all the personal history that led each of us writers to this place, to create this project…but the idea that fifteen years from now, someone else may be writing words not very dissimilar from these, thanks to something in this toolkit that sparked his imagination, or some advice within that made her a better storyteller.
Enjoy the game!
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a roleplaying game that sets unlikely heroes on the road to perilous adventure, in the grim setting of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy world. Players will venture into the dark corners of the Empire, guided by luck and Fate, and challenge the threats that others cannot or will not face.
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